12 Things You Didn't Know About Neuroethics
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
1. Neuroethics is different from Bioethics
Bioethics address the general issues arising from medicine and biological research. Neuroethics, while being a sub-discipline of bioethics, is much more specific in scope. Neuroethics hones in on the brain, which is responsible for everything from emotion, personality, and decision-making. Consequently, in neuroethics there is a much bigger focus on personal responsibility, autonomy, and agency. A common denominator between the two is that they both investigate the implications of health science with the ultimate aim to influence policy.
2. There is a duality within Neuroethics
If you tuned in to Season 2, Episode 1 of our podcast, you may already know that neuroethics can be broken down into two main bodies of work. If not, this one is especially for you! On one hand, neuroethics aims to evaluate the ethical, societal, and policy-related implications of advances in neuroscientific research, such as neurotechnologies. Conversely, neuroethics also aims to study the neuroscience of ethics. For example, where moral decision making occurs in the brain.
3. Neuroethics is incredibly interdisciplinary
Neuroethicists absolutely exist. That said, more often than not those contributing to this type of conversation are coming from a multitude of backgrounds and disciplines such as:
4. Neuroethics can be empirical (just like Neuroscience!)
We know there is a lot of criticism around neuroethics, and ethics in general for that matter, as these fields are construed as being more theoretical and hypothetical. Good news! There is a growing body of neuroethics research that now includes empirical, or quantitative strategies, to form conclusions and inform policy.
5. The ethics of enhancement is a major focus area for Neuroethicists
Physical enhancements are much more understood and commonplace in our dialog, for example, among professional athletes. But what about brain enhancements and their implications? Neuroethics aims to address cognitive enhancements- technologies that allow you to cognitively function higher than you would otherwise. One issue to consider is who should have access to these enhancements? How might that change the academic or professional spheres of our society? Neuroethics also addresses neuroenhancements. A great example would be the potential use of oxytocin to increase prosocial behavior. Is it ethical to alter another person's decision-making even if it is for the “better”? Does this interfere with our current concepts surrounding free will?
6. Cognitive Liberty (Sententia, 2013) is a major consideration in Neuroethics
This idea refers to our freedom of thought and free will, two things we think most people value from a personal and societal standpoint. This concept also encompasses our privacy and ability to think for ourselves. As technologies emerge from neuroscientific research, we could see threats to these values we hold dear. One great example is social media. Take Facebook for instance, a platform that regualrly threatens our privacy, what we see, and how we are neuromarketed to in a myriad of ways.
7. There are legal implications of Neuroethics
The more we understand the neuroscience of trauma, psychopathy, and decision-making, the line could start getting blurred around personal responsibility. For instance, if you are simply considered to be just your brain, and your brain has any abnormality that makes you prone to criminality- how responsible would you be in the event of a crime? People do not intentionally choose their brain chemistry. As discussed in season one, when it comes to a courtroom setting, we believe a balance must be struck between neuroskepticism- having too much concern for the role neuroscience plays in social, ethical, and legal issues, and neuroenthusiam- overemphasizing the role neuroscience plays in behavior and decision-making.
8. Neuroethics is just the TIPs.
There are many ways, depending on your background, that you may engage with Neuroethics. We suggest the following acronym:
T: theoretical- theoretical and practical implications of research
I: Investigative: doing quantitative or qualitative research
P: Practical: advising on Neuroethics matters in the many fields it encompasses
s: societal: how we as society interact with this information
Where do you fit in?
9. Neuroethics is needed for a healthy (and happy ) society
As neuroscientific research continues to advance rapidly, we start to see it shaping the future of our societies and how we interact with the world. We believe awareness and dialog around these topics is essential to creating a future that we want to be a part of and that we generally find desirable. The point being to be seated in choice, not watching it happen passively around us.
10. Neuroethics probably effects you or someone you know
While we hope by now you can see this field is not merely academic, we want to stress how much more household Neuroethics is than you might imagine. Neuroethics Society suggests the following examples-see which apply in your social sphere!
- The use of drugs to treat kids with learning issues
- Personal responsibility in the courtroom (as mentioned)
- Moral implications of mental health or addiction
11. Neuroethics can help design future neurotechnologies
As we mentioned, research in neuroscience is actively shaping emerging technologies. We believe that a value-sensitive design is a central aspect when it comes to responsible research and innovation. A big part of Neuroethics is actively philosophizing, and we think Neuroethics can be incorporated very early on, before a product is created, in order to ensure that the product is ethical and responsible for consumers. A great example is Google glasses- a sensationalized piece of technology that among other things, would allow the user to activate a camera at any time. Rightfully so, the public pushed back considering the average person likely values their anonymity and privacy and may opt not to be recorded without their consent. Even something as simple as a front door camera could raise similar concerns. A more biological example would be genetic testing companies like 23andMe. There has generally been a decrease in their popularity as people become more concerned with what is being done with their personal data. That being said, it is of a company’s interest to incorporate values in the design requirements of their products, to avoid a backlash once it is too late. What issues speak most to you?
12. Neuroethics requires you to stay curious and stay critical
By now it should be clear that these major advancements are happening faster than ever. We believe the best thing you can do is stay curious- ask questions, have a healthy dose of skepticism, and create the dialog in or out of academia. We also implore you to stay critical! Be aware of what you learn, the sources of information you rely on, and what you choose to do with that information. If you’ve come this far, you’re already doing it!
Welcome to the Neuroethics Today Blog! Our goal here is to provide a critical look at the ethical and societal implications of neuroscience research and practices by asking questions and keeping our audiences informed as to why it all matters. We aim to do this by covering all things neuroethics related- from current news and the latest research, to upcoming conferences, and everything in between. We hope to help bridge the gap between experts and the public by taking a straightforward and digestible approach. The Neuroethics Today is for everyone. To learn more about who we are and what we stand for, check out our website HERE.
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